Archive for the ‘Funk’ Category

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June 5, 2010

Some good electronic stuff I’ve heard lately…

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Guido - Anidea

Guido dropped his debut album Anidea the other day, and Andrew Gaerig of Pitchfork called it “one of the finest post-dubstep full lengths yet.” They’ve been throwing the label around for a while, and some people I know laughed at it. What does it even mean, really? Isn’t it a bit too soon, considering we’re still sorting through dubstep, to call something post-dubstep? At first I scoffed too, but I thought about how the genre has advanced. Like Burial and Clubroot, Guido doesn’t quite sound like run-of-the-mill dubstep, not the kind that the dubstep DJs play anyway. But it fits the description perfectly: clattering heartbeat-speed beats, warbly bass tones, and atmospheric sampling make Anidea sound like a familiar dubstep album, but there are aspects of it that sound departed from the typical formula. The cinematic strings on the closing “Tantalized” are a good start; they are just one example of the many sample choices that give Guido his unique rhythm throughout the record. But Anidea is hardly a reactionary record. Above all, Guido specializes in locking into a rhythm and holding a groove for long periods of time. He does this particularly well on the album’s two vocal tracks, “Beautiful Complication” featuring Aarya and “Way U Make Me Feel” featuring Yolanda. The latter in particular is a killer track, retro but also futuristic. This album is loaded with goodies, so if you’re into electronic music, dubstep or not, definitely check it out.

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Onra - Long Distance

Another label that’s been thrown around a lot at Pitchfork lately is post-Dilla. Using the phrase acknowledges a couple things, first and foremost being that J Dilla was a turning point in hip hop and electronic music, but also implying that Dilla influenced a lot of artists. Both of these claims probably hold truth. James Yancey’s style and body of work felt revelatory when they came out, and although it’s hard (at least for me) to namecheck DJs that take cues from him, it’s easy to hear his production value fingerprints here and there, and see his work being important not just now, but in the future. We can relate Dilla’s sound to French producer Onra’s earlier work in some key ways; 2007’s Chinoiseries, which contained only Chinese sample sources, featured cut-up vocal sampling and obscure vinyl melody-scrounging. The results were a little less earth-shaking, but the similarity is there. Now Onra is returning with another totally different LP, a future-shocked funk record called Long Distance. It still bears a resemblance in many ways of Dilla, but people who may have been following electronic and beatmaking music will immediately be reminded of Dam-Funk’s massive double album Toeachizown released in 2009. It reminisces of 80’s synth-funk while celebrating the new, ear-popping way of doing things in hip hop, and consequently we have a fusion of music that is both interesting and classy. At the very least, Onra sounds like he’s having a lot of fun here. The vocal tracks here really shine- in particular, “The One” featuring T3 of Slum Village showcases his abilities to step out of the limelight for an MC while sustaining his intelligent production work. Onra is an artist who simultaneously does a lot of interesting things without compromising any of them, and Long Distance is subsequently an album that sounds accomplished and assured, for whatever genre it’s in.

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Oval - Oh EP

Markus Popp has always refused to follow conventions in songwriting and musical production since the earliest Oval works in the early ’90s, and his tireless creativity brought us brilliant albums like 94 Diskont which challenged the the way that people listened to music. The proposition of a new Oval release is enough to make glitch fans giddy just because of what it is, but Oh is exciting enough to earn its reputation. And for a whole new audience at that; Oh is not only a great glitch release but also a great electronic release, broad in its endeavors. First and foremost it sounds melodic, much moreso than than earlier Oval releases, and each of the fifteen songs has recognizable, though highly warped, tunes. Only two songs break two minutes, the rest keeping things very short as small musical vignettes. The two longer songs are particularly accomplished. The opening “hey” is wonderfully catchy and rhythmic, using some live instrumentation alongside warped synthesizers. “grrr” is more subdued, almost ambient in its progression. It is relaxing, sometimes sounding like free jazz while also sounding avant garde and contemporary, not unlike Music is Rotted One Note era Squarepusher. Most of the shorter songs are quite enjoyable too, abstractly melodic and quiet. All this makes for an all-around solid full listen, a lot to take in from an artist who has a lot of catching up to do with his fans. Perhaps what is even more exciting about the Oh EP is that it precipitates Oval’s upcoming full-length album, O, which will have some seventy tracks. If the modus operandi of Oh carries over, then we have a feast of mini glitch masterpieces to look forward to.

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Chicago Music Festival Report

April 14, 2010

In 2008, I went to a single day of the Pitchfork Music Festival and all three days of Lollapalooza. In 2009, I did the opposite and went to all three days of Pitchfork and a single day of Lollapalooza. This Summer I’m happy to say I’ll be able to do all three days of both. I have my lovely grandmother who bought me Lollapalooza tickets a a surprise.

A dramatic reenactment of our phone conversation:

“Grandma! Those tickets must have been awfully expensive!”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ve been saving up quarters.”

Anyway, I thought I’d give my two cents on both festivals’ lineups.

Lollapalooza has ace headliners this year, and they’ve got the goods to call on legions of rock ‘n roll fans throughout the country.

The more mainstream leaning headliners are very strong. Soundgarden is this year’s alt-rock headliner, and the festival’s older devotees and 90’s rock fans will jump to see one of the band’s first reunion shows. Green Day, though they have lost some indie fans since their glory days, have more than enough star power to fill a stadium, and they will probably change the face of the crowd this year. But the real game changer this year, on a brilliant booking move by Perry Ferrell is the pop juggernaut Lady Gaga, who will sell thousands upon thousands of tickets for Lollapalooza. She’ll attract pop fans, preteens and hipsters alike. It stands that not many, if any other festivals have the means or the balls to pull this kind of headliner.

The indie rockers will be drinking tears of joy this year based on the presence of The Arcade Fire alone, who are due for a tour and a new album. They have been out of the live circuit for a while, but they are more than strong enough of a band to make the headliner slot. The Strokes are also a dazzling attraction. Like the Arcade Fire, they’ve also been out of commission for a long time and they’ll enjoy widespread excitement and ticket sales in response to their headlining spot. But the year’s left field headliner is Phoenix, who due in large part to their 2009 album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” have skyrocketed to the top of the indie food chain, and this slot will be great for Lollapalooza as well as Phoenix, who will consequently get a huge crowd and massive cred regardless of who they go up against in the lineup.

There’s more than enough other shit to keep just about everyone shelling out cash for at least a one day ticket:  Jimmy Cliff and Devo for the older crowd, Slightly Stoopid for the hippies, The Black Keys for the blues fans, AFI for the emos (they’re still around?), Erykah Badu for R&B and funk fans, and Social Distortion and Gogol Bordello for the punks. Perhaps more importantly, there is a large selection of big indie names on the lineup: The New Pornographers, Spoon, The National, Hot Chip, The Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer, The xx, Stars, Matt & Kim and, my favorite, The Walkmen.

Lollapalooza may have a lot of great acts, but Chicago’s biggest indie festival The Pitchfork Music Festival is comparable if not greater in terms of amount of sheer talent.

As with previous years, there is a whole slew of artists at the Pitchfork Festival that you won’t be able to see in too many other places this summer. From the start, Pavement was the festival’s big seller, probably being the major reason that three day passes sold out within the week they were available. The band have reunited for a tour in support of their compilation album “Quarantine the Past,” and we all couldn’t be happier to have the chance to see them live. The other two headliners, Modest Mouse and LCD Soundsystem, are also sought after bookings this Summer, and they sealed the deal.

But there is much more to rabble about beyond the headliners. Wolf Parade, Liars, Broken Social Scene and St. Vincent are also strong sellers. Other stuff you’ll hear me making noise about: Sleigh Bells, Alla, Kurt Vile and The Tallest Man on Earth.

The festival’s hip hop lineup this year is as strong as it has ever been, featuring the likes of Raekwon, Big Boi and El-P. You’ll see me in the crowd for all three.

There are some other very special acts that you probably won’t be able to see in many other places this Summer, particularly Robyn, Panda Bear, Dam-Funk, Major Lazer, and Lightning Bolt.

In terms of the past year’s up and coming Beach Pop scene, Pitchfork has nearly half of the major bands covered: Beach House, Delorean, Real Estate, jj, Girls, Neon Indian, Surfer Blood, Best Coast and Washed Out will all make appearances, plus the likes of Local Natives, Free Energy, and The Smith Westerns, who are though not exactly beach pop are closely related in style and popularity.

Lollapalooza will always have the capacity to bring together acts that will sell hundreds of thousands of tickets, and still have a strong selection of indie bands on tap. Though smaller and more geared towards a specific crowd, The Pitchfork Festival’s lineup this year has finally matched Lollapalooza’s in terms of sheer talent and diversity. We’ve got two great major music festivals lined up for the Summer, and I’m excited for both.

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Dam-Funk – Toeachizown

February 6, 2010

I have finally finished listening to, in its entirety, Toeachizown, the massive, 140-minute funk album from L.A. “Ambassador of Boogie Funk” Dam-Funk. I committed myself to doing it over a period of several days, listening to large portions of it while on my computer, playing violent video games, walking to work, during any spare ten minute blocks I had on my crappy new Skullcandy headphones, temporary replacements until I fix my nice Bose pair. Having completed this endeavor, I’ll most likely never do it again. I feel no shame in cherry picking from this collection from hereon out, and although I definitely enjoy listening to it, giving it a run as a full album was more exhausting than other collections of comparable length, such as The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs or Wolfgang Voigt’s Nah und Fern. Still, that I’m not completely sick of Dam-Funk by now says a lot for this album’s staying power.

As for what it sounds like, think early electro-funk, or smooth synthesizer laden R&B, maybe early Prince. Cheesy smooth jazz keyboard melodies over steady, heavy beats and iced with even cheesier synthesizer melodies, sometimes complemented by Dam-Funk’s vocals and cheesy lyrics. All that cheese would be far too much if it wasn’t clearly deliberate, and it wasn’t obvious that Dam-Funk knows exactly what he is doing. Andy Kellman at AMG nails it: “It’s got a good beat and you can drive 15 miles per hour to it.” It’s sexy music, but it isn’t quite love making music. Maybe it’s the soundtrack to a sensual, two and a half hour long back rub.

Even when one of these funk epics sounds fantastically embossed, they are still hardly innovative or revolutionary. Sometimes Dam throws down a pretty sick, creative beat like he does on the opening “Let’s Take Off (Far Away).” On this track as well as many others, the beat really pops out much like the work of Madlib and it makes it a little more understandable why Stones Throw Records picked up Dam-Funk for their roster; although his sound is nothing new, it is well established and has the potential to be a valuable asset. Unlike Madlib, whose productions are often elaborate and metamorphic, Dam’s productions are often relatively stationary, holding down the same strong beat for up to eight or nine minutes. It’s easy to imagine instrumental successes here such as “10 West” being played in future Adult Swim blips. When Dam croons “I put the funk down for you continuously, and I’ve got somethin’ to say to you bay-bee” on “One Less Day,” I find myself not just chuckling but also dropping my jaw a little. It’s kind of amazing how much Dam ends up being able to do with his limited tools.

The first big question on my mind has been, why the length? Dam-Funk compiled the tracklist of Toeachizown from a series of 2009 LPs also titled Toeachizown, and this 5 LP (2 CD) box set only curbs five tracks off of the original series. Why Stones Throw would chose to release the new signee’s first release as such a massive, potentially un-sellable piece like this is anyone’s guess. Also, the original LPs could feasibly have been released, unchanged, in box set form, but clearly Dam thought some kind of editing was necessary, and yet couldn’t bear to cut it down to the length of a single, more concise album. So what we’re left with is a sprawling, exhausting album that seems to be well aware of itself.

Is it superfluous? Absolutely. Indulgent? Necessarily. In fact, it seems like Dam uses the album’s scope to his advantage in an attempt to make this album a monolith of electro-funk, and it sure sounds like he succeeds. Above all else Toeachizown is brimming with highlights that keep it incredibly listenable for how long it is and a continuously rewarding release. There are some truly classic vocal R&B cuts (“One Less Day,” “I Wanna Thank You,” likely several more I haven’t fully discovered), experimental flourishes and solid grooves. Even if you only just like its style, this album will most likely have the gravity to pull you in for further listening. Toeachizown is a late 2009 highlight and a truly essential R&B album in a genre where those are few and far between these days, and yet it will almost certainly not be picked up by any mainstream radio stations and has already dodged most credible indie sources. Here’s to hoping that Dam-Funk will find a new audience as this album serves as the soundtrack to many a lowriding sunset not just in L.A., but across the country as this album gets slowly discovered in the new year and as Summer approaches.